Camping - Wait, in a tent? In your own backyard? Along a busy street in Blacksburg? C’mon.
i’ve bedded down in a fire tower, camped in the jungle, and tented in the Outer Hebrides islands during a gale, but my wildest camping experience was in my own backyard.
Minute by minute, Blacksburg, Virginia gave me my roughest outdoor night. I failed to factor the annoying species that pass through a residential lot at night.
I was staked out to pursue the species that nibbled my tomatoes and pulverized my beans. I hadn’t expected a critter problem. I live between two busy streets, across from student apartments. I plant to keep us in veggies half the year. When something began munching up our efforts last June, I declared war.
I tried soapy sprays, peppery dustings, mirrors and tinsel. The beast was not deterred as I spread fish line, soap sachets and human pee around the perimeter— proclaiming “mine” in animal language. No luck. Deer poop popped up all over, shorthand for “back at ya.”
“We’ll occupy the garden,” I proposed. “Show them who’s boss.” I set up camp, amassing a pile of fist-sized rocks as ammunition.
I settled in after sunset. Soon a high-pitched whine filled the tent—first a scout mosquito and then a battalion. Each time I slapped one into oblivion, two more showed up. But repellent was only steps away. Ah, urban camping.
I attracted another visitor—a vocal cat. To placate him, I patted my sleeping bag. He purred against my feet. For 10 minutes. Then he wanted out. Then in. Then out. Ten times.
I was groggy when he began hissing at something in the garden …Something with black fur …and a white plume tail, raised. The scent hit me like a 20-foot wave—a combo of pulp mill, rotten garbage, gunpowder and death. I retched. The cat, who took a direct hit, streaked off. The skunk ambled off.
I moved the tent. As I settled in, something scuttled from the compost pile. A possum with a toothy leer as he waddled past.
Now I became more aware of human noise from across the street. Screaming. This is Blacksburg, so we don’t brush off screaming. Was it standard excited, hormonal screaming, or fear? Peering over the hedge, I saw students’ prone bodies littering the sloping yard. Gasp. No, they were sliding over a plastic sheet glinting with running water and screaming for the thrill of it.
They were young and celebrating the end of summer session. I was old and wearing a skunky night shirt. Did I have the right to tell them to shut up so I could sleep in my garden on a Friday night? No. Blacksburg is their town, their habitat, after all.
I considered going in. No deer with that racket. But when I reached the tent, two deer stood in the garden. They raised their heads and stared at me.
“Get!” I yelled. They stood like statues. “Get, get, get!” I lobbed a stone at the closest deer. I missed. She stepped daintily behind a tomato cage. I yelled some more, not nice language. I threw more rocks. I never hit a deer, but eventually they bounced over the fish line and out of the garden.
I crawled into my tent to lie down. Out in the compost pile I could hear something digging, some wild animal. When I awoke, dew had settled over the garden. Two deer were moving like ghosts through what was left of the tomatoes.
We bought our deer fence later that day.